The ball slammed against the light tower in right field.
Reggie Jackson, slugger for the Birmingham A’s, had connected with such force it was surprising that chips of wood were not falling off the bat and onto the ground. Jackson swaggered around the bases as the ball climbed in elevation to more than halfway up the tower.
Jackson’s feat was later immortalized with a painted X, preserving yet another significant moment in the history of Rickwood Field.
The ancient green baseball park is crowded with past memories such as this; it is a time machine that has the power to transport visitors to the retro world that was once Birmingham.
For 108 years, Rickwood Field has graced Alabama with virtually the same appearance. Not much has been changed over the century, but miniscule details such as Jackson’s X can be found here and there that each tell unique stories.
This field is pure history.
Rickwood has been a reservation for America’s favorite game since 1910. The stadium was built for the Birmingham Barons, as well as for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League.
Over its extensive lifespan, Rickwood has also served as a football field for the Alabama Crimson Tide, has fallen victim to numerous tornadoes, and has been featured in three films: Cobb (1994), Soul of the Game (1995), and 42 (2012).
Some of the greatest to ever play the game have played on this Birmingham field. Names like Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson all contribute to Rickwood’s rich history.
Willie Mays played at Rickwood as a 16-year-old kid in the early days of his astounding career, as well as other stars for the Black Barons like Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, and Josh Gibson.
Though the Birmingham Barons eventually moved away from Rickwood Field in 1987, they continue to play one game a year, the Rickwood Classic, in this olden stadium. But for the most part, the field belongs to the gratified citizens of Birmingham.
Friends of Rickwood, the caretakers of the stadium since 1992, regularly hold amateur games or open the field to the public to allow visitors to explore all that it has to offer.
Today, Rickwood serves as a solemn reminder to Birmingham of its past. The picturesque field retains its glory because of those who care so deeply for its value. In fact, efforts are currently being made by the Friends of Rickwood to transform the stadium into a baseball museum.
For us, baseball exists as a sort of mirror for American citizens to gaze into and recognize its perfections as well as its flaws. Once city that can certainly relate is Birmingham, and it is fitting that the oldest ballpark would have been born here.
The stories that Rickwood’s timeworn walls hold are truly invaluable. H&A
Photos by Al Blanton